Tactical solution, Strategic problem, Theory of reasoned action and Pollution in Delhi

Consider some of the headlines:

The pollution level in Delhi has risen to level that in a way robs citizens of their right to safe and healthy living. If terror and incursions across the line of control put life of Indian citizens at risk, the pollution within our cities is no different. Both lead to same outcomes. Both are enemies, except that domestic enemy invites divergent opinions and milder response. Lack of consensus is one big reason why things don’t get implemented. But consensus based decisions are not always timely and correct. Difficult situations require tough and decisive actions. If there is identifiable enemy outside, equally offensive foe thrives within.

First of all there is no dearth of opinions on what causes pollution in Delhi and how much. The list includes causes like vehicular emission, construction activity, coal and wood burning, poor quality of fuel, city waste burning, industrial emissions and dust on streets due to open surfaces. The cause that dominated news now includes stubble burning in neighboring states.

What is of concern in this air pollution? It includes gases and substances that pollution is made up of.  These includes lead, particulate matter, and gases likeNitrogen oxides (NOx). Carbon monoxide (CO). Sulfur dioxide (SO2). Pollution is bad because of its consequences. It is a health hazard and is related to respiratory problems, lung damage, asthma and cancer. The elderly, children and ill are particularly vulnerable.

Broadly two the contributing factors can be classified into two categories: the micro or the ones within in individual’s control and macro which related to governmental interventions. The macro contributors like emissions from power plants, diesel policy, politician-contractor nexus (footpath tiles changes), enforcement pollution policy on industrial units and road encroachments.Image result for pollution index delhi

From marketing perspective, the government can launch systematic campaign based on insights to discourage (de-market) pollution causing behaviors. It is not the same thing as haphazard ad campaigns usually run by governmental agencies (like the one which is currently going which urges people to teach needy children in the neighborhood).

One of the approaches that can suggest route to curb pollution is theory of reasoned action. This theory proposes that Intention (intention to control pollution) is necessary for Behavior (actual pollution controlling actions) to occur and both are likely be related. The intention to indulge in a behavior is caused by Attitude to that behavior (liking or disliking towards polluting behavior) and Subjective norm (how people important to one view when one indulges in pollution control activities).

So it is necessary for government to cultivate Intention before people actually adopt pollution reducing behaviors. What are the strategies?

  •  Create strong negative evaluation/attitude towards polluting behavior. Now the issue is do people know about polluting behaviors and its effects. The answer is probably yes. But they don’t strongly feel negative about polluting behaviors. So what is required it to link these behaviors with something important in their lives so that their attitude shifts from indifference to strongly negative (consider: is smoking bad? Answer is yes and I don’t care. But now if you show that smoking is going to hurt your most loved one-lovely daughter, the attitude is likely to shift to negative toward smoking).
  •  Often people don’t care about certain behaviors (like littering on streets) because it is acceptable/it is a norm/nobody disapproves. We often seen illegitimate as legitimate because ‘everybody does it’/ ‘it’s normal’. So this norm has to be changed. The important people around can exert pressure. This power needs to be leveraged. Although difficult, yet norms can be subtly changed. If people around us start to dislike, abhor and show displeasure at our polluting behaviors, it is likely subtly pressure us into not to violate this ‘social norm’.  Many of us who visit abroad very quickly learn what public behaviors are socially disapproved and fall in line.
  •  Finally, often people with right intentions do not behave in accordance to their intentions (e.g. I intend not to litter yet I do). Here comes the role of enablement by the government. The desirable behaviors would get actualized only when they are accompanied by enabling conditions (the campaign to stay indoors is a hollow waste of money- if people don’t have alternative they  would move outdoors/ the odd-even is bound to make people defy their intention in the absence of alternatives).

It is part of our DNA not adopt a visionary approach to solving problems. The tactical maneuvers to strategic problems do not help. It’s time that we seized up the situation and took a long term stand on the issue of pollution.